Once upon a time (mid-1940s) there was a creative grandmother who wanted to give her grandchildren something special for the holidays. Knowing that they loved stories—nursery rhymes and fairy tales and the great books of childhood—the grandmother, whose name was Mrs. Ernest P. Waud (her first name was Olive), decided to make tree-ornament-sized figures of the characters that her grandchildren knew so well.
Now, Mrs. Waud was accomplished with a needle and thread. So she gathered wool felt (in many colors), jewel-like beads, and shiny sequins and seed pearls, and she began to stitch.
Her handiwork brought the characters to three-dimensional life, with incredible detail: the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland glances down, mid-scurry, at a tiny pocketwatch…miniature red beads mark the Through the Looking Glass lion’s claws…bits of wire are twisted into eyeglasses for the Three Blind Mice…and the chimney on Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater’s house tilts at just the right crazy angle.
Over the years, Mrs. Waud’s creations earned local recognition. An ornament-laden tree toured the Children’s Memorial Hospital annually in the 1950s. The Museum of Science and Industry included her figurines at the Miracle of Books fair in 1953, and the Art Institute of Chicago displayed her work around 1963. Finally, in 1998, the collection found a permanent home here at the Chicago Botanic Garden. More than 60 characters are on display every year, and some are sure to make your heart skip: Babar and Celeste…Pigling Bland…Peter Rabbit…
Tell Mrs. Waud’s story, reminisce about your favorite childhood books, and smile as you explore the collection, on display through January 6.
Heartfelt wishes for a happy new year. ♥